By the time they reach school age, one in 20 children has hearing loss in one ear, which often poses significant challenges for these children, according to a study at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis. Researchers found that loss of hearing in one ear hurts the youngsters’ ability to comprehend and use language.

Hearing loss in one ear can result from congenital abnormalities in the ear, head trauma, or infections such as meningitis. Children with hearing loss in one ear may go undetected because they can appear to have normal hearing. Their difficulty hearing may be mistaken simply for lack of attention or selective hearing, said a statement from lead author Judith E. C. Lieu, MD, a Washington University ear, nose,and throat specialist at St Louis Children’s Hospital and assistant professor of otolaryngology.

Even children with recognized one-side hearing loss often aren’t fitted with hearing aids and often do not receive accommodations for disability.

The study will be published in the June issue of the journal Pediatrics.

The researchers studied 74 6- to 12-year-old children with hearing loss in one ear. Each was matched with a sibling with normal hearing so the researchers could minimize the possible effects of environmental and genetic factors on the children’s language skills. The children were tested with the Oral and Written Language Scales (OWLS), a widely used tool to assess language comprehension and expression.

An average OWLS score is 100, and hearing loss in one ear caused about a 10-point drop in scores. The oral composite score—which reflects children’s ability to understand what is said to them and their ability to respond or express themselves—averaged 90 in children with hearing loss in one ear.

Lieu said the study demonstrated the strongest effect from hearing loss in one ear in children who are living below the poverty level or with mothers who have little education. Poverty levels and maternal education levels are well-established influences on language skills, and hearing loss in one ear may increase that effect.

The study does not address which possible solutions will be most effective for overcoming the decrease in language skills seen in the children with hearing loss in one ear. But Lieu suggested that studies could be done to see if hearing aids or amplification systems in the classroom will help. Having an educational audiologist as part of an individualized educational plan might be beneficial, researchers said.

Lieu JEC, Tye-Murray N, Karzon RK, Piccirillo JF. Unilateral hearing loss is associated with worse speech-language scores in children. Pediatrics. June 2010;125(6).

Funding from the National Institutes of Health supported this research.

[Source: Washington University in St Louis]